What’s in season: Celebrating strawberries with homemade Strawberrycello

What’s in season: Celebrating strawberries with homemade Strawberrycello

 

If I was going to name one skill to master to save money and really intensify the flavors of your home cooking, it would be to deeply start exploring the juices. We throw away so much flavor and nutrition because we don’t value that extra bit of juice in the pan. Yet we will buy a separate spice or sauce to do exactly what that discarded juice will do if you would only recognize it.

Seasonal fruit is a great example of how harnessing the power and flavor of those natural peak-of-freshness juices makes your cooking extraordinary. Most recipes solve the issue of too juicy in pies and jams by cooking the fruits down, and adding thickener. But reverse that thinking, and slow down your process, and I think you will be amazed at the difference.

Got my first strawberries from the local Amish farmer a couple days ago. Plain, simple, straight-up strawberry jam may be one of my very, very favorite kitchen staples. But last year, I made this. And it’s a pretty wonderful way to celebrate that unmistakable flavor of a fresh, ripe, local strawberry in January. And a really excellent DIY gift idea, if you are inclined to think ahead that way.

Strawberrycello

  • 2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced, or 1-1/2 pounds frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1-1/2 cups Simple Syrup*
  • 1 fifth vodka, 80 – 100 proof

Muddle the strawberries and simply syrup with a wooden spoon in a half-gallon jar. Stir in the vodka. 

Seal the jar and put it in a cool, dark cabinet until the liquid smells and tastes strongly of strawberries, about 7 days.

Strain the mixtue with a mesh strainer into a clean quart jar. Do not push on the solids to extract more liquid – it will make your Strawberrycello cloudy. 

Note: If you feel your berries may have been a little overripe, and the flavor of your liquor seems a little flat, add a Tablespoon of strawberry or raspberry vinegar to restore the balance.  

Seal and store in a cool, dark cabinet. Use within 1 year. 

Perfect for sipping on a summer day, for spiking a cosmo, mixing with a summery white wine like Prosecco – don’t forget to chill the glass! 

From the very fun book, Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits by Andrew Schloss. 

Martha will show you how to make herb sugar here.

 

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Oinkers: pork burgers with pineapple salsa

Oinkers: pork burgers with pineapple salsa

Tomorrow is Father’s Day, have you got a plan? Steak, steak, steak, kind of expected. But these unique burgers are something everyone will like, are less expensive, still fun and special, and pretty foolproof.  Oinkers are made from unseasoned ground pork mixed with ground smoked & cured ham –  a spin off that classic rural family favorite; ham loaf.

Traditional ham loaf is a little sweet for me, but I knew there was something modern and extraordinary there. So, by eliminating a lot of the sugar, substituting saltines for the traditional graham cracker binder, adding the smoky flavor only a charcoal grill can create, and topped with a spicy pineapple salsa, I am pretty pleased with this incarnation.

A brioche, or other soft white, bun is great, white American cheese is perfect, and basting the burgers with Stubbs Original BBQ sauce added a nice, tangy, peppery flavor, though I loved the plain, unabated burgers just as much.

I actually don’t eat my burgers on a bun –  I prefer a bed of chopped salad or slaw with the salsa and rice. All straight from the fridge is a nice cold lunch for a sweltering day. See? No rules. Just like the best kind of summer day.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 slice bone-in cured ham, 1.5#
  • 1 pound unseasoned ground pork
  • 1/3 cup crushed saltines
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 TBS spicy brown mustard
  • BBQ sauce – optional
  • White American cheese slices – optional
  • Buns and your favorite burger fixings – shredded lettuce, tomato, etc.  I used shredded lettuce, scallion greens, and pineapple salsa.

Directions:

Cut the ham into chunks, removing the bone, and pulse in a food processor until finely ground. Mix with the ground pork, cracker crumbs, eggs and mustard in a large bowl until well combined – but don’t overword the meat. – and refrigerate at least an hour, or overnight.

Form the meat into six to eight patties. On a greased grill* rack at medium high direct heat, grill the burgers for 5-6 minutes, flip, and gril another 2-4 minutes. Baste with your favorite BBQ sauce if you wish to add another layer of flavor, I liked the peppery flavory of Stubbs Original, but the plain oinker was pretty great.

Add cheese and melt, remove  burgers from the grill when the internal temp is 160° F.

Assemble and serve. 

Lunchtime chill:  Grab-and-Go  Buttermilk Soup

Lunchtime chill: Grab-and-Go Buttermilk Soup

Summer is time to put buttermilk on the menu. 

 

I have never been one for drinking big glasses of butermilk, but I LOVE the variety of buttermilk and spring veggie soups.  So refreshing, so easy, and something you can prepare big batches of ahead, so you can pull out a chilled glass jar of refreshing soup when you need it later. And, I would not lie about this – a pint of this soup for lunch will literally cool you down, and keep you working.

Did you know too, that cucumbers are amazingly nutritious?  Cucumbers are naturally low in calories, but high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, electrolytes, and water. So do something your future self will thank you for, and put that summer protein buttermilk to work for you this year. 

A glug here, some easy home made buttermilk dressing there, a great natural marinade for meats like pork and chicken, plus cornbrread just is not  cornbread without buttermilk. And let us not forget buttermilk chocolate cake, and buttermilk pie. It will not go to waste.

Here in Pittsburgh, we have a couple local, easily sourced, independently owned and bottled choices for excellent, delicious, buttermilk. If you can, Pasture Maid Creamery is a single-farm choice in glass returnable bottles, and is low temperature pasteurized to retain the most nutrient density from the milk. Supermarket ultra pasteurized will last longer, but many of the nutrients are destroyed by the high temperature used in the pasteurization and homogonization processes.

Here’s my favorite, super-simple Martha Stewart-inspired recipe. Whenever there are very few ingredients, it pays to use the best quality ingredients you can find. 

Martha serves hers in bowls, garnished with cucumber slices, but I measure mine into pint Mason jars, and store them in the fridge for a grab-and-go lunch when things get hot. The frosted glass jar somehow makes it all more refreshing and delicious. 

2 cucumbers peeled, halved, and seeded, plus thin cucumber rounds, for serving
2 cups buttermilk
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving 

1/2 tsp granulated garlic (optional)

Roughly chop or grate the cucumbers. Place roughly chopped cucumber in a food processor or blender with buttermilk and granlulated garlic if using.  Blend until smooth, 1 minute. 

Season with salt and pepper. Divide soup among four bowls and stir in diced cucumber, or portion into mason jars – the plastic lids are extra nice. 

To serve, top with cucumber rounds, a drizzle of oil, chopped herbs, or more pepper, if desired.

 

Galentine’s Day

Galentine’s Day

I was a bit eye-rolley about this idea at first.

GAL is one of those words that feels silly and stilted to say, and in my head, is always heard in Ethel Merman’s voice. I mean, I love my female friends, I love candy and wine, lipstick and treats, but Galentine’s was looking like one massive Hallmark consumption fest and a gathering of all things giggly and girly.

Not knocking giggly and girly if that is your real thing and it brings you joy. But to me, a good Galentine’s Day would head for the woods with chain saws, or a hike, plant some stuff, or build some fence, and/or a good bonfire cum/table groaning with loads of home-made potluck treats. Or a get-together helping a GAL friend with any daunting project she can’t quite manage to launch by herself.

My Galentine’s Day would include some sharing of Galentine dreams and some #NoMercy commitment to birthing those shy, secret plans we GALS hide in the back of our hearts, and always seem to put last, behind everyone else’s laundry and chauffeuring needs. 

Then, the word GALENTINE started to grow on me, Ethel and all.

Looking back over the last decade of my life, the part where “normal” began to fall apart, it is absolutely one hundred percent true, it was my female friends who saved me from drowning.

Though we each had busy lives, and didn’t spend much time Galentine-ing it up during our everyday, married, kid schlepping lives, it did not matter.  When the need was real, it was those GALS who showed up, ready to work when I was overwhelmed and could not see what to do next.

When I was mowed over after my husband’s heart attack, we had three busy daughters at home, and I ran my own demanding business, it was my friend Debbie who cooked – I am not exaggerating – trays and trays of foods, thoughtfully planned for Bill’s new dietary needs, so I could mix and match and keep my family fed for weeks without needing to go to the store.

I also remember the day I was part of a group of GALS helping my same friend Debbie load up all her stuff and move her out of the house she had poured her heart into and into a rental the next town over.  The power of that group of women, each pitching in hard with their unique gifts, moved mountains that day.

Obviously, Debbie Galentines like a boss.

My friend Becky was there during the darkest days of my marriage helping keep the business alive and well and keeping me focused on the unpleasant tasks at hand.

More recently, when I was overwhelmed after losing family and a good chunk of my farm resources, it was my friend Shelly who showed up and helped me move all my freezers and plow through my paralysis, and begin to set up a new normal.

After my divorce, having to adjust to losing so much, my friend Jenny went out of her way to open her home to me, and include me in her days. For a while, the warm, rich, friend-filled dinners spent at Jenny’s house were the only real human balm for my sore spirit.

I could go on, but you get it.  And I am not the only one. When the chips are down, and the days go dark, it is your girlfriends who bring you back.

So, a day to celebrate that life force is only right and good.  And if you find you are without Galentines in your life, I would recommend you get to work finding some. ASAP.

I could not love you GALS more.

 

DIY gifts: a sweet cuppa Valentine Love

DIY gifts: a sweet cuppa Valentine Love

Grand gestures are showy, but quiet, small ones are sweeter.

 

This week is that favorite day of retailers, florists and restauranteurs everywhere, Valentine’s Day. And while I’m weary of the commercialized aspect of the day, you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to not love one big collective day of appreciation for the special people in our lives.

We Pennsylvanians will tell you that winter can be an old-fashioned, mettle-testing trudge. I can’t really complain this year, Western Pennsylvania has been warm, but warm winter mud presents its own kind of soul-crushing fatigue.   The kind of weariness that can be soothed with a steamy, creamy cup of home-made cocoa.

I nixxed commercial hot chocolate powders a long time ago in favor of the old-fashioned, off-the-package Hershey’s cocoa recipe that my mom used to make. Real milk, cocoa, salt, sugar and a bit of vanilla – all things found in an average kitchen. Is it really too difficult to heat a pan of milk?

But then , one day, I stumbled upon a GREAT IDEA.  Something I had to try ASAP. And I’m so glad I did.

This is one of the nicest, sweetest DIY gift ideas around – a jar of chocolate ganache ready to spoon into heated milk for a perfectly delicious, creamy, real cup of steaming cocoa.

Hot Chocolate Ganache
Yield: 2 generous cups ganache

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized, if possible)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate (3 – 4 oz. bars)*

Note: In general, the fewer ingredients a recipe calls for, the better quality those ingredients should be. While you don’t have to break the bank on the chocolate, do go for bars around 70% cocoa (usually called bittersweet or dark) . The standard Hershey bar tends to disappoint.

Snap chocolate bars into a large, heat-proof bowl.  Heat cream over medium, until the first bubble breaks, then remove from heat and pour over chocolate shards.  Let sit 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine, 1-2 minutes.  Pour into jar, decorate with a Valentine label and instructions, and refrigerate, up to 1 month.

To Make Hot Cocoa:

Heat milk over medium heat, until steaming.  Add ganache to hot milk: I don’t measure, the right amount of ganache is kind of a personal thing. Stir a Tablespoon or two of ganache into hot milk until dissolved, 10-15 seconds, taste, then add more, if desired.  Pour into mugs, and do not be stingy with the whipped cream or marshmallows.

No worries if your Valentine is too lazy to heat the milk – there’s always spoon truffles.

Spoon truffles? You know exactly what I’m talking about – no double dipping!